A new arena has been approved for construction on the campus of Wayne State University, where it will also play host for the Detroit Pistons’ G League squad. Pictured is an artist’s rendering of the inside of the arena.

A new arena has been approved for construction on the campus of Wayne State University, where it will also play host for the Detroit Pistons’ G League squad. Pictured is an artist’s rendering of the inside of the arena.

Image provided by the Wayne State Department of Athletics

New arena approved for WSU basketball and Pistons’ G League affiliate

By: Mark Vest | C&G Newspapers | Published July 11, 2019

DETROIT — In 2017, Wayne State University Director of Athletics Rob Fournier said he made a cold call to Josh Bartelstein, of the Detroit Pistons.

Bartelstein is the vice president of strategy and the chief of staff of Palace Sports & Entertainment, and Fournier recalled saying to him, “I have a concept; do you guys (want to) talk about it?”

What started as a cold call turned into a partnership that has the potential to profoundly impact both Wayne State athletics and the Pistons organization.

In May of this year, Wayne State’s board of governors approved plans for the construction of an arena that will host Wayne State men’s and women’s basketball games, as well as contests for the Pistons’ G League affiliate.

Fournier expects the arena — which he said will have a seating capacity of about 3,000 — to be completed in July of 2021 on the campus of Wayne State, near the intersection of Warren and Trumbull avenues in Detroit.

“Anytime your athletic program can be associated directly with a professional team, there’s no downside to it,” Fournier said. “Can you imagine showing a recruit around the facility and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we have a partnership with the Detroit Pistons of the NBA.’ How does that hurt your recruiting? Those are the kind of intangibles that separate you from other institutions.”

The projected cost for the arena is $25 million.

“The basic formula is we’re putting the money upfront, and then they’re paying us back money over a number of years to cover that cost,” Fournier said of the lease agreement with the Pistons.

It isn’t just Wayne State athletics, which competes at the NCAA Division II level, and the Pistons that Fournier expects to be impacted by the arena.

“I think this type of facility draws attention to your basketball programs, and it’s not just our men’s and women’s basketball programs, but all the other activities and events that can take place with that,” Fournier said. “Be that high school special events or high school postseason. The thought has been, and this is kind of a term that in working with the Pistons we’ve adopted, it’s, ‘We’re (going to) create the epicenter of Detroit basketball.’”

Pistons owner Tom Gores shared his thoughts in a prepared statement.

“We continue to invest in the success of our franchise and the success of our community,” Gores said. “Bringing a G League team to Detroit delivers on both fronts. It will give our players and coaches the best tools available to maximize performance, and it will add more fuel to the revitalization underway in Midtown and throughout Detroit.”

After the completion of the new arena, the Matthaei Center, which was built in 1965 and is the current home for Wayne State men’s and women’s basketball, is expected to provide extra space for intramural and club sports at the university.

Although Wayne State women’s basketball coach Carrie Lohr referred to the current facility as serviceable, she said she is “very excited” about the new arena.

“There is no question that Wayne State does provide a quality education for our student-athletes,” Lohr said. “And we have the resources within our athletics department that is on par with many Division I programs, in terms of what we can provide our student-athletes. But the one area that we’re not on par with is our facility, and I think (this) new facility now will put us in that same category with many of the schools we compete with at both the Division I and Division II level. So, this is going to be a game-changer for us.”

Wayne State men’s basketball coach David Greer expects the arena to be a “state-of-the-art facility.”

“It’ll be a great venue for not only Wayne State basketball (but) for high school basketball, and just as a community piece,” Greer said. “We’re excited about it, and hopefully it’ll enhance our program quite a bit. … When you’re recruiting, facilities are a big selling point, whether it be locker rooms or just having a quality place to play with air conditioning.”

Fournier has also gotten positive feedback from Wayne State alumni.

“It’s just been a shot of adrenaline,” Fournier said. “People are just so excited about (the) opportunity and what it means. … It brings a whole different level of energy.”